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Entitlement: what it is and how it kills literature

If you type the word ‘entitlement’ into Google search, you will see two definitions. The first is quite simple, self-explanatory: “the fact of having a right to something.” But the second is what interests me, and it is this: “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.” And when it comes to literature, it is the second that can kill it.



A few days ago, an author published an opinion piece with the Sydney Morning Herald talking about her right to represent minority groups. Sure, representation in Australian literature matters. Everyone should strive to write stories that include diverse characters. Respectfully. Humbly. And with the intention of truly believing that it matters and deserves agency for its own sake, not for PR or diversity… you know, just ‘cause.


What kills literature is when authors believe their privilege, their success, and their whiteness earns them the right to represent minority groups. Here’s an example of what entitlement, as per the second definition, looks like. This author wrote: “I’m not Indigenous. I’m not Muslim. I’m not a refugee. I’m not transgender. I’m not disabled. And I’m not a hippopotamus who eats cake. But as a professional author of more than 200 books across 50 years, I’ve always used diverse characters from varied backgrounds and ages in all my stories. And as a 70-ish, white grandmother, I find this diversity is increasingly being challenged.”


What we need to see, and what the Australian publishing industry needs to increasingly do, is champion the voices of minority groups by a) publishing stories written by minorities themselves who deserve a platform to speak about their identities, and b) standing behind authors who genuinely believe in the importance of diversity in literature.


If we continue to turn a blind eye on entitlement across the industry, standing behind authors who deny minorities a voice because of their inherent sense of entitlement to that voice, then we’ve killed literature.


(In response to @ozgesevalk’s wonderful piece published by @meanjinquarterly_)


Until next time,


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